The Washington Post reported another sign of the times in local TV news: “The day’s news may soon rest in the hands — and quite possibly on the feet — of newscasters at [News Corp.’s] WTTG, Channel 5, in Washington.”
In a bid to save money, the station is planning to reassign the technicians who operate the prompters that feed scripted news copy to the anchors while they’re on the air. Instead, the station wants its anchors to do the job themselves.
WTTG, Fox 5, intends to train its newscasters to operate prompters using a series of hand levers and foot pedals, all while they’re reading the news as it scrolls by.
“Instead of orchestrating coverage, fact-checking, handling breaking news, paying attention to the [newscast], engaging reporters, questioning authorities, covering bad writing and technical mistakes, anchors will now spend most of their time” running the prompter, a newsroom employee told the paper. “It’s kind of like a literal one-man band — singing, banging a drum, crashing cymbals, playing a trumpet and strumming a guitar…except we’re not playing show tunes here.”
Fox5 News Director Phil Metlin briefly described what the station had in mind in an internal memo last week, said the story. Metlin said reassignment of the prompter operators’ work was part of a “corporate directive”. Wrote Metlin to his staff: “We have purchased new equipment including foot pedals and hand controls. In the coming weeks, we will begin placing this equipment throughout our studios and we will begin a vigorous training program. Our goal is to use this equipment flawlessly.”
WTTG GM Duffy Dyer told The Post his station hasn’t decided when it will implement the new system. But he said the anchor-controlled prompters tested well at Fox’s station in Austin. “Some anchors and news talent prefer to operate it themselves because they can be in complete control of the speed and the pauses. Maybe this will allow our talent to handle the prompter exactly as they want it.”
RBR-TVBR observation: Sure, the move could increase the potential for on-camera blunders. Viewers may also notice some awkward movements beneath the anchor desk. However, the bottom line is to keep the newscast on the air and hopefully profitable. Eventually, newscasts may resemble more of a video blog on the internet as far as professionalism is concerned. As it stands now, most stations are relying upon citizen journalists with cell phone videos for much of their content. Nothing wrong with that – it gets the viewers more involved in the product, and more engaged.